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IndyCar preview: Third-place Andretti revved up for Iowa

The SportsXchange

NEWTON, Iowa -- Marco Andretti walked away from Iowa Speedway last year with a smile on his face. It was forced.

The third-generation driver with still so much to prove in the IndyCar Series didn't like finishing second to Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, but Andretti, the Iowa race winner in 2011, knew that not supporting the team's cause would have made him look bad.

That's why he smiled.

"But I was really mad that we didn't win that race," he said.

Andretti, 26, gets another chance to do so Sunday afternoon in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at the track east of Des Moines. He even comes into the race with the most momentum he's ever had in the series.

Andretti is third in the point standings, within striking distance of leader Helio Castroneves of Team Penske. Hunter-Reay stands between them as the season reaches its halfway point this weekend.

Practice, qualifying and three heat races are Saturday.

Andretti's situation also is noteworthy because he's one of two Andretti Autosport drivers without a win this season, but he and EJ Viso are knocking at the door. Viso has qualified in the top five in each of the past six events while Andretti won the pole for last weekend's race at the Milwaukee Mile.

Viso has never won an IndyCar race, although he's steadily getting closer to reaching victory lane. He was a season-best fourth at Milwaukee.

"He's been the star of qualifying lately," Hinchcliffe said.

Andretti has two career IndyCar wins, the first coming in 2006 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

Hunter-Reay not only won Milwaukee, he also won at Barber Motorsports Park in April. James Hinchcliffe won the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, both events held before the Indianapolis 500.

History suggests Michael Andretti's team will be the top contenders this weekend. It has won the past three Iowa races (with Tony Kanaan winning in 2010) and captured the inaugural event with Dario Franchitti in 2007. Ironically, no Andretti driver has ever won an IndyCar pole at the fast short track (0.875 mile).

The three 50-lap heat races broadcast on IndyCar's website Saturday at 6:45 p.m. ET will spice up the action. All but the top six qualifiers will be split into the first two heats, with the top two finishes transferring to the third heat.

The participants in that third heat will score championship points and be slotted in the top spots for Sunday's race (3:05 p.m., ABC).

If the second half of the season is as good as the first half, IndyCar is in for a lot more fun.

Seven different drivers have won the nine races, with only Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay winning more than one race. There have been three first-time winners: Hinchcliffe in St. Pete, Takuma Sato in Long Beach, Calif., and Simon Pagenaud in Detroit.

Kanaan won his first Indianapolis 500 in popular fashion. Meanwhile, none of Chip Ganassi's drivers, including former series champions Franchitti and Scott Dixon, have not won a race nor has Team Penske's Will Power, the series runner-up the past three seasons.

Sunday's race continues the oval-track portion of the season. In a six-week stretch, IndyCar will have raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile, Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway. The July 7 race at Pocono will be the first major open-wheel race since Danny Sullivan won the 1989 CART race.

IndyCar's only other oval this season will be the season-ending race Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

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